It wasn't just that she didn't have the degree. It was not finishing that bothered Kristi Noem the most.
That and a big sister who wouldn't let her forget.
"I was always disappointed that I didn't finish college," the Republican congresswoman from Castlewood said recently, just days after she handed in her final paper in coursework for an undergraduate degree in political science from South Dakota State University. "But I really got kick-started in a conversation with my sister in about 2005 or 2006. We were talking and she said she was really surprised I hadn't finished, because she hadn't known me to quit at anything."
That got Noem to thinking. And eventually she resumed through online studies the college coursework she had abandoned almost two decades earlier when her dad died in a farm accident.
Noem still believes she made the right decision in going home to help on the family's Hamlin County farm. But combined with responsibilities in marriage, motherhood and business, her desire for the degree drifted.
Until big sister, Cindy, who has a master's degree, stepped in.
"She said it in love, and I appreciated her saying it. But it was also a conversation that stuck with me," Noem said during a speech Dec. 17 at the University of South Dakota winter commencement. "I couldn't get it out of my mind."
So Noem went back to work on that education degree, which changed quite naturally to political science. She also won two terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives and then in the 2010 U.S. House race upset three-term Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who had seemed unbeatable in her two previous campaigns.
Noem, 40, took a break from her studies during her House campaign but then picked it up in her first year in Congress.
It wasn't easy. Noem sandwiched her coursework - a process made possible by new online options - in between congressional duties in D.C. and family time and constituent visits back in the state.
"I generally did a lot of my studying on airplane flights back and forth from South Dakota to Washington," Noem said. "And a lot of nights I would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning to get things done."
Noem hadn't officially received word on her final paper. But presuming she passed, she'll have the right to graduate next spring at SDSU commencement ceremonies.
That's still under discussion with Noem's husband, Bryon, and children, Kassidy, Kennedy and Booker.
"My family wants me to. They're pretty excited I got it done, and they've really gone through it with me," Noem said. "But I wouldn't want to be a distraction for the other students. I'm not sure."
She is sure, however, that the degree was worth the work. She likes it so much, she's thinking about a master's degree.
"My sister has hers, so it would be kind of fun to do," she said. "And I certainly think it would be something I could accomplish."